Lavender 3

Jesse Kates writes smart, romantic pop songs. Their literary quality comes naturally, considering he studied creative writing at Carnegie-Mellon University. He also has a background in visual arts and is married to an artist. Considering all that, the idea of releasing an album and a book as a multimedia experience seems pretty natural.

Lavender 3, the fifth album by Kansas City band The Sexy Accident, is an unusual concept among local releases. Instead of a physical CD, it's a hardback book packaged with a download code. To someone who - like me - used to get lost in album art while listening to records, Lavender 3 takes the experience up a notch. Individual song lyrics are paired on facing pages with images by eight artists. The book begins with an introduction by W.E. Leathem (proprietor of Prospero's Books, a frequent venue for Kates and company). In addition to the lyrics and art, there is an interview by The Deli editor (and bassist) Michelle Bacon, The Sexy Accident bassist Mark Hamblin and his long-time bassist father, Don Hamblin. It's about bass. The book concludes with the transcript of a thoroughly entertaining interview between KKFI 90.1 FM DJ Mark Manning, Kates, and producer Steve Fisk.

Lavender 3 is is Fisk's third full-length collaboration with The Sexy Accident. Based in Seattle, he has also produced The Wedding Present, Low, and Nirvana, among many others. The album was tracked in 9 days at Kansas City's Westend Recording Studios, mostly with the full band playing their parts live. As Kates says, "There's a certain energy you get when it's people playing in a room." The band rehearsed for several months before going to the studio, and their work shows. The arrangements are lush, adventurous and tight, propelling Kates' frequently witty wordplay to the forefront. Besides the five members of the band and Fisk, who plays an organ solo near the epic ending of "Let's Play," Laurel Parks and Sascha Groshang (who sometimes perform as The Wires) added violin and cello. Other guests include Kates' college professor Jim Daniels, who recites one of his poems as a prelude to "You Turn My Breath To Steam," and Sean Nelson of Seattle band Harvey Danger.

No discussion of The Sexy Accident is complete without mentioning vocalist/keyboardist Camry Ivory. Over the last 5 years she has blossomed as a singer and onstage presence, and Kates says he enjoys writing songs for her to sing. "I really like being able to play with two characters in a song, in a duet. It gives you a chance to call the narrator on his bullshit or to have them play together. It's been so much fun to be able to sometimes write from the point of view of a woman." Ivory's voice provides some of the loveliest moments on the album, as in "Gracefully," a song about ending a doomed relationship.

Time passes and things change. Ivory, in search of new challenges, has moved on to other projects. Drummer Daniel Torrence has also left the band, replaced by Alex Austyn. The splits are amicable, a more or less inevitable result of outside pressures pulling band members in different directions without financial rewards to push them back together. But Kates is philosophical about it. "I know my band is not a business, because in business you give your customers what they want [laughs]. And I don't care. I do try to make it something that people would enjoy, but at the end of the day I make music I want to listen to."

If you're looking for maximum-volume, testosterone-fueled doom and gloom, there are plenty of bands to provide it. Lavender 3 is more of a gentle interlude, maybe a rainy afternoon companion for browsing lyrics and images. "In some ways, this is our most feminine record," Kates says, possibly because so many women were integral to the project. In any case, it's their strongest effort yet. With every album, Kates' voice, both singing and in the narrative sense, gets stronger and better defined. Lavender 3 is a mature effort in a unique package.

- Pat Tomek, The Deli